May 28, 2014

Asylum seeker lifeboats fail safety standards, says regulator

The independent maritime safety regulator has confirmed that the lifeboats used to force asylum seekers back to Indonesia fail safety standards.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The lifeboats being used by Operation Sovereign Borders do not comply with Safety of Life at Sea Convention, the government's independent maritime safety agency has admitted to a Senate estimates hearing. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, appearing before the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee estimates hearings yesterday, was quizzed by Labor Senator Stephen Conroy about the safety of the orange lifeboats the government's Operation Sovereign Borders has purchased for placing asylum seekers in for return to Indonesia. One of AMSA's tasks is to "monitor compliance by Australian flag ships and their operators with the International Safety Management (ISM) Code under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention", including certification of Australian vessels. Chapter III of SOLAS covers requirements for lifeboats, including how they are launched. Conroy has previously established that AMSA had undertaken no work to ensure that the Customs and navy vessels involved in OSB had the cranes required to safely launch the lifeboats without damage, rather than, in the words of Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, be "chucked overboard". The lifeboats have been used to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia from outside Indonesia's territorial waters, meaning a journey of at least 12 nautical miles, although Australian vessels have "inadvertently" entered Indonesian waters numerous times over December and January. One of the lifeboats was reported to have run aground on a reef some distance from land. The means of launching the lifeboats "doesn't comply with SOLAS", AMSA deputy CEO Mick Kinley told Conroy yesterday evening after prolonged attempts to avoid answering, admitting the OSB vessels didn't have the necessary equipment. The admission was partly as a consequence of Defence Minister David Johnston failing to pay attention during the hearing. He spent much of the exchange away from the table in conversation elsewhere in the room, before belatedly realising what was happening. Johnston then aggressively -- in his seemingly standard mode of high dudgeon -- intervened unsuccessfully to attempt to stop any further discussion. Kinley insisted the lifeboats, because they weren't deemed as lifesaving equipment, didn't need to meet SOLAS requirements for lifeboats or be registered with AMSA, but he had assumed the orange lifeboats purchased by Customs as part of OSB were SOLAS-compliant. However, he admitted stripping lifeboats of equipment such as buckets, knives and fishing line, as Customs had done, would render the vessels "non-compliant" with SOLAS. Kinley tried to play down the removal of items like fishing lines, suggesting there was little need for asylum seekers to use them. "There are things I'd rather have than a bucket," Kinley said, noting that the lifeboats were designed to be able to fill up with water and still float. "I'm sure there's many other things you'd rather have if you were floating about in an indoor pool in an orange tent at sea, but a whole range of safety equipment has been removed." "I don't see that it's relevant," Kinley said about the removal of safety equipment. The exchange stands in significant contrast to the point-blank refusal of Customs head Mike Pezzullo, who earlier in the week in another committee hearing refused to discuss anything to do with the lifeboats into which asylum seekers are being forced.

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13 thoughts on “Asylum seeker lifeboats fail safety standards, says regulator

  1. Vincent O'Donnell

    I am appalled that public servants have to have the truth forced from the lips that Ministers seek to sew up.

    A few charges laid against senior ministers and bureaucrats for contempt of parliament would be good. But, of course, that will never happen. Not while parliament is a play thing of party politics and national interests run a distant second.

  2. paddy

    What a sickening disaster just waiting to happen.

  3. Vincent O'Donnell

    It also seems from his reply that AMSA deputy CEO Mick Kinley has never been to sea. In small boats there are few things more useful than a bucket. A frightened sailor and a bucket beats any bilge pump hands down, any day.

  4. John Hamer

    So do the vessels that the asylum seekers set off from Indonesia in,comply with Safety of Life at Sea Convention? Of course they don’t. The fact that Operation Sovereign Borders is working so effectively, has saved the lives of hundreds if not thousands.

  5. R Man

    So the logic is by giving the asylum seekers knives and fishing line in the boats, that would make things safer???

  6. klewso

    What’s one more deterrent?

  7. bushby jane

    Makes you wonder why all of us in our tinnies have to have all these ‘safety’ extras on board if all you experts (including Kinley) reckon they’re not of any use.

  8. Dan B

    The craft aren’t used as a lifesaving device. They are meant to return people after being caught attempting to illegally enter Australia. And that is what they do.

  9. condel

    sorry budgetary restraints – its a bit your fault if you get wet -too

  10. Ken Lambert

    Bernie has worked hard on confecting a scandal over this one.

    Knives and fishing lines – great for threatening your Sovereign borderers and self harm.

    Don’t know about the buckets – normally good for a female urinator, and a bit of emergency bailing but these lifeboats can float full of water.

    Seems like Bernie should be questioning the people smugglers about the safety of their boats – now there is a scandal….leaky, wooden, and very sinkable when put into water. Perhaps Bernie could lodge a complaint with Indonesian officials about the safety of the boats bought and sent to sea from their teeming shores.

    Oh…seems like they have stopped coming….safety problem solved…and it seems like none of the smugglees in our orange boats have suffered anything worse than burned hands from grasping those hot exhaust pipes.

    What a horrible result …dodgy boats have stopped coming, nobody has drowned since Morrison became Minister, detention centre closing for lack of inmates, and smugglers going out of business.

    And the Indonesian officials are earning honest modest livings while the Australian Govt saves hundreds of millions of dollars.

    What a shocking scandalous policy achievement of the Abbott Govt.

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